The Nashville Predators fell to the Boston Bruins in a shootout 4-3 at the TD Garden, picking up a point to go to 70 points on the season.
Some observations about this contest...
Boston gave Nashville a dose of their own medicine, as they forechecked the Predators relentlessly throughout the game. The Bruins used their forecheck to disrupt the Predators offense all afternoon and control the puck throughout the contest. The Bruins offensive zone time was dominating, and it was reflected in the shots on goal, which favored the Bruins by a huge 41-22 margin.
The Bruins are an elite team, and the fact that the Predators kept competing and had a chance to win is heartening. The Bruins had a raucous crowd supporting their efforts, and they fed off that momentum. Yet the Predators kept fighting and clawing back. They showed flashes of playing excellent hockey. When they skated and controlled the puck, they forced the Bruins to try to match their speed, which was difficult for them to do.
Unfortunately for the Predators, their offensive effort was inconsistent. A good part of this was the play of a very good Bruins team. Another aspect was that the Predators did not handle the forecheck of the Bruins with efficiency. In the offensive zone, the Bruins used their size to win the majority of puck battles, short circuiting the Predators offensive flow.
Watching this game, and how the Predators struggled to handle the pressure from the Bruins, brought home the point that this team still needs players up front that have the grit and ability to handle a tight checking, physical game. This is the type of hockey this team will face in the playoffs, and this game was a good preview of what this team needs up front to go deep in the playoffs.
I was impressed with the play of several of the Predators. Brandon Yip played a gritty game and battled hard for the puck. Patric Hornqvist was his usual physical presence in front, working hard for position against a big and physical Bruin defense. Shea Weber was a force in the defensive zone and his goal to tie the game was an absolute rocket. Mike Fisher hustled all night, and his goal was a result of him never giving up on the puck or the play, and was a beauty of a backhand.
David Legwand continues to frustrate me with his play in the offensive zone. His puck handling abilities are second to none, but it almost appears that Leggy is afraid to shoot the puck. He almost invariably kills any offensive effort when the puck is in the zone by not shooting the puck and failing to distribute it to his wingers. To have over 20 minutes (20:12) of ice time and not record a single shot on net is both unacceptable and baffling beyond words.
Marty Erat and Colin Wilson both had one shot on goal. These are players that the Predators are counting on to generate offense and create chances. Their play in a tight checking, playoff like game, was invisible. These guys are going to face this type of effort in the playoffs, and their game is going to have to elevate for the Predators to make noise in the post season.
Pekka Rinne was outstanding in net. Without his solid play, the Predators would not have had a chance in this game. He was bombarded with shots throughout the game and made great save after great save. I really can't fault him for any of the goals he gave up as the Bruins made some great plays and the defense broke down in front of him. If Rinne is not in the Hart and Vezina consideration, it would be an injustice of epic proportions.
The Predators have gotten a taste of playoff hockey in their games against the Canucks and the Bruins. Both games have shown that the Predators have the components to win these types of games. These games have also shown that this team has to play with better intensity and focus to have a chance to win these types of contests. The roster does not have a skater that can take over a game, and because of that, this team has to play a total team game. They have shown this season that they can do that.
When they do not not, though, the onus of winning falls on the play of Rinne in net. That means that one mistake can mean the difference between winning and losing a critical game. That margin of error is too slim in the playoffs.
This game against the Bruins has given the Predators a good picture of where they are for the playoffs. to me, it is evident that they need that one piece up front that can play well and consistently in these types of games.
The February 27th trade deadline is going to be interesting.
My three stars:
1. Patrice Bergeron
2. Pekka Rinne
3. Patric Hornqvist